Are you getting enough sleep?
“How many hours of sleep do adults need?” is one of the most frequently asked question on the internet in the UK. Between the caffeine and blue-light screens, it’s easy to feel like everything we come into contact with is designed to keep us stimulated, awake and productive. However, a good night’s sleep is as essential for maintaining our overall wellbeing.
A lot of things are happening in our bodies while we sleep: Toxic compounds are removed and tissues are repaired so that our bodies can function as healthily as possible. Brain pathways are formed and maintained so that we can recall past experiences, create new memories, stay focused, and quickly respond to our ever-changing environment during the day.
This week, we’ve looked into all the big questions about sleep: how much, when and why…
Is eight hours a night the optimal amount?
Well, not quite. The “optimal” amount varies from person to person, but studies around the world suggest that the vast majority of adults need between seven and nine hours sleep per night.
The type of sleep we get is important too. Sleep occurs in cycles of 90 minutes, during which we encounter light sleep, deep sleep and the REM stage, each of which is essential to our overall health and wellbeing. It’s often cited that non-REM sleep is the stage of sleep that’s important for restoration of function, for recovery, for regulation of immune function and growth. It’s thought that REM sleep is important as it regulates certain aspects of learning and of regulation of emotion. We need a balance of non-REM and REM sleep to sleep well.
What determines how much sleep you need?
Age affects how much sleep we need – teenagers, for example, will generally need more hours – but once we reach adulthood the amount of sleep we need remains fairly stable.
Donald Trump – and before him, Margaret Thatcher – famously claims he needs only four hours’ sleep to operate effectively. Sadly, you can’t train yourself to do that. But is it possible to work out your personal ‘Magic Number’, or at least the fewest hours’ sleep you can get away with, and still feel OK? Unfortunately, there are a very rare few genetic mutants out there who have a short sleeping gene, who can perhaps survive on maybe six hours and 15 minutes. To give you some statistical context, it’s much more likely that you will be struck by lightning in your lifetime than be one of these individuals.
Similarly, very few people require more than nine hours sleep. A good demonstration would be elite athletes. Because of their physical training, they may need a higher sleep amount.
Should I be going to sleep at a certain time?
What time you go to bed will ultimately be decided by what time you need to get up, but aligning with your body’s natural rhythm will boost the quality of your sleep. Each of us follows an internal 24-hour clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which tells us when to sleep and when to wake up. This is influenced by many factors – light and temperature among them – but your chronotype also plays a role. Your chronotype is your body’s natural inclination to sleep and wake at a certain time and determines whether you are a morning lark, night owl or somewhere in between. “If you sleep in sync with your internal body clock, the quality of your sleep will be better,” says Leschziner. “Living out of sync with your body clock, even if you are getting sufficient sleep, can have negative effects.”
How do I work out how much sleep is right for me?
To Sophie Bostock, @thesleepscientist.com, this area of research is familiar. ‘Just like your shoe size or height, ‘optimum sleep’ varies from person to person,’ she says. ‘For example, some people have a ‘short sleep’ gene which means they feel alert and refreshed after just five or six hours’ rest.’
The answer is apparently to go sleep when you feel tired, and wake up without an alarm. Then do the maths. Says Sophie Bostock: ‘If you wake up naturally without an alarm, feel refreshed, and don’t need caffeine, sugar, or a nap to get through the day, then you’re probably getting enough.’
A sleep routine could help
If you are going to bed and getting up at a different time every night and getting variable amounts of sleep each night, it is impossible to know how much sleep you need. Establishing a routine could help. Pick a waking up time and work backwards from there to establish a fixed bedtime. As above, this should be seven to nine hours earlier. Stick to this routine for two weeks. If you feel exhausted, gradually go to bed earlier. Likewise, if you find you’re unable to fall asleep within 30 minutes, gradually go to bed later. Keep doing this until you find you are generally waking refreshed and able to comfortably get through your day.
Did you know that eating a well- balanced diet can also have an impact on your sleep? Why not take the stress out of eating well and order Balance Box today? If you’re prioritising your health this winter, hop over to our menu page and choose your box. Designed by nutritionists, prepared by chefs – enjoy tasty, nutritional meals, ready to eat in minutes.